January 20, 2022

Purchasing pot

Multiple municipalities to allow cannabis dispensaries

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

The Riverside Plaza off Clinton Avenue in Cortland is in the heart of the GB-1 zone, a business zone largely surrounding Interstate 81’s exit 11. The zone is where the city proposes allowing marijuana dispensaries, as other municipalities consider how they’ll regulate the dispensaries, should any seek to open.

The deadline to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries has come and gone, and now participating municipalities must consider where to allow retail and consumption sites.

Nine of the 19 municipalities in Cortland County opted out of allowing dispensaries, reports the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government. Other communities voted to allow them; others didn’t act, so automatically opted in, including Cortland.

The village of McGraw and town of Homer put the matter to public referendums. Voters in both communities decided to allow them.

Now the question is where to put them.

The city of Cortland has proposed a law to allow marijuana dispensaries only in the city’s General Business Regional Zone, or GB-1, a business district largely surrounding Interstate 81’s Exit 11, including the Riverside Plaza and extending south to Cleveland Street. Common Council planned to discuss on Tuesday setting a hearing for comment on the plan.

In Homer, Supervisor Fred Forbes expects the town to be more hands off.

“We put out all the information that people needed beforehand, with websites to go to and stuff to research, so I think the town board has done their due diligence and the people have spoken,” Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said Tuesday.

Forbes said the town does not intend to make zoning amendments for the businesses.

“I just think the people that want to put up something like these businesses are going to try to position themselves in a major traffic area,” he said.

Although the town will allow marijuana dispensaries, the state will not allow more than two in Cortland County. State law allows only one dispensary per 20,000 residents, Bob Haight, the Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce CEO and president, said in November.

In Cortland County, the towns of Freetown, Homer, Solon and the village of McGraw have chosen to allow both dispensaries and consumption sites. The village of Homer will allow dispensaries, but not consumption sites. The city of Cortland and the towns of Harford, Scott, Taylor and Truxton did not opt out of the local law before the Dec. 31 deadline.

In Tompkins County, the town of Dryden chose to allow dispensaries and consumption sites, while the town and village of Groton opted out. Towns that opted out have the choice to rejoin the marijuana retail market at any time.

Dryden Supervisor Jason Leifer said he doesn’t expect to see dispensaries in the town until 2023, because the town must first complete its comprehensive plan probably by April — before making zoning amendments that would allow licensed businesses to set up shop.

“It’s handled similarly to liquor licenses — when someone applies for a liquor license, the municipality gets notified, and then there’s a comment period before they can get licensed,” Leifer said Tuesday.

“The dispensaries are really going to be treated like any other adult retail establishment, like places where alcohol is sold,” Leifer said.

In the past, the town of Dryden has zoned bars and liquor stores to industrial areas or commercial zones, to keep them separate from churches and schools – a strategy it will likely use when zoning for dispensaries later this year, Leifer said.

For the towns and villages that opted out, people are still allowed to smoke cannabis wherever they’re legally allowed to smoke tobacco.

“If a village has a park but they don’t have smoking regulations, they might want to think about putting those in, whether or not they opted out,” Leifer said. “Otherwise people can still possess and legally smoke it just like they can with cigarettes.”